Chancellor announces crackdown on single-use plastics

By James Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

The government is to review tax systems to help limit plastic waste in the UK
The government is to review tax systems to help limit plastic waste in the UK
A crackdown on single-use disposable plastic packaging was a key point in the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond’s 2018 Spring Statement.

The statement, revealed today (Tuesday 13 March), gave an overall update on the health of the UK’s economy and invited people and businesses to give views on changes the government was considering.

To counter the threat of plastics to the environment, the government has launched a consultation into how to use the tax system to encourage the responsible use of plastic.

Some of the money raised from any tax changes would be used to encourage the creation of new, greener products and services.

Additionally, £20m from existing budgets would be given to businesses and universities to research ways to reduce the impact of plastics on the environment.

Hammond said: “It will look at the whole supply chain for single-use plastics, at alternative materials, reusable options and recycling opportunities.

‘Drive technological progress’

“It will look at how the tax system can help drive the technological progress and the behavioural change that we need, not as a way of raising revenue.”

In response to the plans, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said it welcomed any action the government takes to reduce the UK’s plastic footprint.

Chief scientific officer Helen Munday said: “FDF fully recognises that more needs to be done to reduce litter and drive up recycling across all materials, including plastics, and this needs to encompass increasing the capture of used packaging both on-the-go and in the home. 

“We therefore welcome the opportunity to contribute to the government’s public consultation process and welcome the launch of the innovation fund to develop the technologies and appropriate approaches to reduce plastic waste.”

However, any financial investments should only be made where they can be most effective in driving change, such as reform of the current UK producer responsibility system for packaging, said Munday.

‘Preserving food products’

“Additionally, it is vital that these innovations and other actions take full account of the important role of plastics in protecting and preserving food products throughout the food and drink supply chain,”​ she added.

Environmental pressure group A Plastic Planet called the reforms long overdue, but warned that the government must take decisive action on the issue.

Co-founder Sian Sutherland said: “As a first step, the Chancellor should urgently consider using the tax system to encourage Britain's supermarkets to radically overhaul their approach to food and drink packaging.

“The Treasury should incentivise UK retailers to follow the example set by Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza, which last month launched the world’s first plastic-free aisle.”

You can submit your views on the government’s website.

Meanwhile, the first wave of government funding to help roll out full-fibre broadband across the country was allocated during the Spring Statement, providing £95m for 13 areas across the UK.

Lack of automation in the UK

A renewed focus on the UK’s productivity was high on the agenda in the Chancellor’s spring statement. However, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell highlighted that Britain had the lowest rate of industrial robot use in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In response, Mark Gray of collaborative robots (cobot) provider Universal Robots said the UK’s below average level of automation created huge potential for manufacturers to increase productivity.

The high costs and inflexibility of traditional industrial robots puts them out of reach of the average SME. However, cobots are very different as they typically achieve payback within just six months.

“As UK manufacturers consider the consequences of Brexit to their operations cobots offer a clear strategy for addressing skills shortages, increasing output and upping productivity.”

Related topics: Packaging, Packaging materials

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